Media crucial in countering tobacco harm reduction misinformation

On October 14, 2022

Phillip Morris International (PMI) says misinformation has hampered its campaign to replace combustible cigarettes with tobacco harm reduction alternatives.

“But there are millions of people out there who need better alternatives to cigarettes. We have made huge investments into research and development and scientific studies on our products which have proven that these are a better choice for adults who would otherwise continue smoking,” PMI Vice President (Market Activation and Support), Tommaso Di Giovanni told journalists from Eastern and Southern African countries who are members of the Reporters Network on Tobacco and Nicotine Industry (Renotoni) during a virtual media session on disinformation and misinformation in the media and their effects on human progress this week.

The Director of External Affairs at PMI, Harouna Ly, stated that the organisation believes in open dialogue with all stakeholders, including the media.

“We want to do the same with the science community and the community at large. We want all voices to be heard and the public should have all the harm reduction information. Media has a crucial role to play, especially in Africa where there is a lot of hesitancy. There’s a lot of opposition but we would love to see changes based on facts and substantiated data,” he said.

Public Speaker and Lecturer in Strategy Integra Africa, Tendai Mhizha, advised media outlets and leaders to be at the forefront of fighting disinformation and misinformation in her presentation titled: News Literacy, Disinformation in Society.

“There has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects e-cigarettes have on the body. This has led to policies that disfavour harm reduction products and discussion that completely denies their benefits,” she said.

Mhizha noted that, while technology has simplified many things, the digital world has challenges that have had a negative impact on Africa.

“In recent years, we have witnessed designed campaigns that have pumped millions on internationally false and misleading posts into Africa’s online social spaces,” she said.

Mhizha went on to say that local journalism and civil society organisations (CSOs) can also play an important role in fact-checking, media literacy, and the dissemination of accurate information at a more local level.

She said: “We have seen that efforts to thwart the spread of misinformation at the local level can be useful in communities where these organizations have credibility and are rooted in the fabric of the local ecosystem. It’s at this level where local journalists and CSOs can become the conveyors of truth and drivers of the correction of the misinformation.”